Over a year and a half ago I began a quest for a preschool for my son. At the time he was 2 ½ and obviously outgrowing the lovely home care provider who watch him 5 days a week. Being my first endeavor into the wild woods of preschools, I had a vision of what I wanted a school to be, but no idea what was out there. Soon, I began to discover that not all preschools were actually schools and that not all day care was created equal. That’s when I happened upon the North Carolina 5 Star Rating System.
I noticed as I searched that some of the programs that I visited valiantly waived their certificate of 3, 4, and (some even) 5 stars-proudly…yet I had no idea what any measure of this system truly was. I did, however, begin to compare apples to apples and soon noticed that the caliber of program that branded 5 Stars was different, a step above the rest…and as I visited the state site and learned more about the extensiveness of the scale itself, I knew my child would go only to a school that had 5 Stars.
Then began my new venture of finding a school that had indeed captured 5 Stars and at the same time. It should also capture my sense of well-being and the need for future preparation for my child. I found myself distraught.
There were plenty of daycare centers, places with a modicum of curriculum speckled among high quality pottying and play. But there were not many SCHOOLS, places where learning experiences were intentional and where nurturing was provided by role models. I put my tail between my legs after searching for two months and quietly tucked my son back into the arms of his long-time babysitter.
A month later, I was working for The Grove School of Cary. And now, I am MOST proud to announce, that after a vigorous year of effort and talent-seeking, we have officially earned our 5 STAR RATING…making us not only a SERIOUSLY FRESH NEW PRESCHOOL, but a SERIOUSLY HIGH QUALITY PRESCHOOL PROGRAM…and one that I am most overjoyed that my children are attending.
So, what’s the big deal you say? Oh, obviously you haven’t done your homework! The Division of Child Development evaluates licensed early childhood facilities to determine how they rate on two BIG components: Program Standards and Education Standards. The idea is that this rating scale (in the form of Stars) gives parents information about the quality of care each program provides. 1 star means the program has met the minimum licensing requirements. Programs then ask to be evaluated and based upon that evaluation and state standards, can receive up to 5 stars.
The Program Standards include the environment of the school – is there enough space for activities? Is there a variety of play materials? Is there a clean, comfortable play area? What is the ratio of teachers to students in a classroom? And finally, is there evidence of meaningful interactions between adults and children, children and other children, and children with activities and materials?
In the midst of the standards is also the option to be evaluated using the Environment Rating Scale, which evaluates if good health practices are being used, if caregivers interact with children, if they respond to children’s needs, if activities are developmentally appropriate for children to learn and play, and if the classroom area is safe.
The Education Standards are a little more complex. This particular area has to do with the caliber of the staff who is hired to care for children, including the administration. You see, studies show that children whose caregivers had higher qualifications did better both academically and behaviorally at least into early elementary school. So, the education level and experience of the early childhood person teaching our children is instrumental in the children’s future success in higher education. This rating to me, seems to be the most critical because this is the key to being more than a day care facility. This is the key to providing a higher level of education.
Hopefully now you can see, that’s what makes me so happy about The Grove School. I can now say we indeed have our 5 Stars. We have met the highest standard the state requires for a program. Our program is safe, healthy, comfortable, developmentally appropriate, and managed by some of the most talented and highly qualified instructors in the state. I am quite proud of our staff who have brought to our facility warm, nurturing talent and who also provide that sense of well-being that I was looking for as a parent.
I am proud to say that we have arrived to provide the best educational experience for all the children that we serve and if you haven’t seen us yet, I invite you to do so. In fact, my son will show you around!